Archive for the ‘Book fo Joshua’ Category

Judges 8:22-35 (Part 3 of 3)
Gideon’s Sacred Ephod

Livin’ large. That is what we see from Gideon here. Gideon retires and decides to live large. Verses 29–32 describe the lifestyle of a king, not that of a judge or a retired army officer. Gideon is quite wealthy, partly from the spoils of battle and partly from the gifts of the people. Wealth and leisure can destroy us. Instead of serving God, it is easy to squander some of the best years of our lives on ourselves.

Gideon’s spiral of disintegration continues in 8:30: “Now Gideon had seventy sons who were his direct descendants, for he had many wives.” The Mosaic Law had warned Israel against having a king who accumulated many wives (Deut 17:17). Near Eastern kings paraded their status by taking many wives.24 It seems like this is exactly what Gideon is doing. To make matters even worse, Gideon has a child through his Canaanite mistress (concubine), who lives in Shechem (8:31).

As we have spoken in the last two blogs, there are numerous megachurch pastors that have fallen due to moral lapses. When we begin having people think that we are the greatest thing since sliced bread we begin to start serving our egos rather than serving God. But it is not only megachurch pastors. You see professional athletes have illegitimate children, spoil themselves with wealth, have entourages of yes men, and have many, many women who offer themselves up freely just to be a part of the orbit of the latest hot commodity athlete. Often, the off the arena activities of these athletes end up ruining their lives.

We see it in our nation in general. Today, we see the compromise of what was a nation that had biblical moral values become something quite different today. What was once considered absolute truth is now relative. What was once considered morally wrong is now commonplace and acceptable. We see a new generation of people who consider having babies outside of marriage as a mark of a rite of passage into adulthood. We so no outrage over such things. It is just commonplace now. The moral absolutes that were once etched in stone in our society are now flexible and gooey. We accept behavior that was once considered against the very nature of God. Anyone who still holds on to the values of the Bible and its moral absolutes is considered old-fashioned and out of step with the times. Homosexual relationships are seen as cool and beneficial. Homosexual parenting is considered normal and healthy now, though we are just beginning to study the effects of same sex parenting on our future generations of children. Transgenderism and identifying with a sex that is not your natural sex at birth is considered hip and is supported by the liberal intelligentsia of our nation. Anyone who dares to object to the fact that these things are in no uncertain terms prohibited in the Bible is roundly vilified in the public media and the court of easily swayed public opinion. We are now a society of whatever makes me feel good has got to be morally right and OK and God has been changed to be our pal that just wants us to be happy. There are no moral absolutes. Truth is relative. That’s what happens when we begin to make compromises with God’s standards. Once we say it’s OK to violate one standard, then, well, the game is on. We rationalize and justify. We exclude parts of God’s Word and say we have misinterpreted what they really meant. We were wrong all these centuries.

We see it in our own lives as well. Once we decide that it is OK to violate God’s commands in one area of our life, it becomes easier to say what the hell and the dam breaks. Although my first marriage was dangerous and lethal, there was something that happened to me when I decided to have my affair with the woman who became my second wife. Although I justified it by the fact that my first wife was a dangerously unstable woman with severe addictive tendencies and made my life a living hell for a long time, there was something that changed in me once I violated this command of God. Once we crossover into violating direct commands of God, the rebellion begins. You wake up somewhere down the road realizing that your moral standards, all of them, that were instilled in you lie in tatters at your feet. The things that you said you would never do are things you do all the time now. The moral bar that you once had for yourself begins to get closer and closer to the ground and then you just throw the bar away. Anything goes. We tell ourselves lies to justify doing things that we know by encoding by our Maker that are wrong so that we can do them. Ever wonder why the reams of paper that are spent on defending homosexuality and transgenderism as wholesome and normal whereas you do not have to write any articles or spend countless hours of media time nor countless hours of protesting to defend male-female marriage? It is the same with our slip into accepting immoral behavior in our own lives. We spend way too much time defending our own behavior that is outright wrong in the sight of God. We make exceptions. We justify. We drift away from God and the next thing you know years down the road you find yourself having totally compromised who you are just to follow our own desires. It is usually when our desires have destroyed our lives that we finally see God and see that his moral absolutes were not restrictions but rather to protect us from going off the deep end and hurting ourselves and others. It all starts with one moral lapse. Then, the next one is easier. Then, the next barrier that we cross causes less noise in our moral compass. Then, it gets to the point that we do not even recognize morality.

That’s the thing that came to mind this morning when I read through this passage for a third time before we move on to the next passage in my next blog. Here, Gideon’s slide into immorality begins with the sacred ephod. The siren’s call of immorality began there. He wanted the ego massage of people adoring him and wanted wealth and treasure. His compromises of his loyalty to God begins right there. Let’s read through this passage, Judges 8:22-35 once again and see if we see ourselves in Gideon:

22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” 24 And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.)

25 They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels,[a] not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

28 Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon’s lifetime, the land had peace forty years.

29 Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live. 30 He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. 31 His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelek. 32 Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god 34 and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35 They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them.

In this passage, in v. 27, we see that the relationship between Gideon and a concubine produced a son who tore apart Gideon’s family and caused tragedy for the nation. Gideon’s story illustrates the fact that heroes in battle are not always heros in daily life. Gideon led the nations but could not lead his family. His apparent sexual desires led to multiple children by multiple wives and a concubine. This behavior led to divisiveness within Gideon’s family and contributed to a national crisis. No matter who you are, moral laxness will cause problems. Just because you have won one battle with temptations does not guarantee that you will automatically win the next one. We need to be constantly watchful against temptation. Satan’s strongest attacks often come after our greatest successes.

How far Gideon fell. He goes from saying that “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you!” to a man with 70 kids from many wives, and a concubine on the side. He was living large and compromising his morality more and more each day. Is this the story of our lives or what? Is this the story of our nation where our own wealth has led to our moral decay? We see ourselves in Gideon. His lack of morality brought ruin to the nation as it will in our own country in our own time. Our own lack of morality and slide into the abyss will ruin our own lives. Unrepentant sins will ruin us no matter how we justify them.

Are you sick and tired of the trail of bodies in your life? Are you sick tired of the broken relationships? Are you sick and tired of the drama? Are you sick and tired of feeling like you are a shell of the man or woman that you used to be? Are you sick and tired of the things that you find acceptable now that you would have never considered just a short while ago? How is that freedom of doing what I please, when I please, with who I please working for you? Are you lonely, lost, and afraid? Do you no longer recognize the person you look at in the mirror? Are you empty inside? Jesus is calling.

As the song by Elevation Worship states, “Come to the altar. His arms are open wide. Forgiveness has been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ!”

You are never too far gone to stop the slide into the depths of an even lower lack of morality, repent of our sins (that you have been justifying as fine and OK), come to the altar, confess your sins, submit your rebellious heart to the One who loves you so much that he died on a cross. Submit your heart to the One that wants you to obey Him so that you can have peace for once in your life. He wants you to obey Him because He knows what’s best for you. Stop running. Stop justifying the drama of your life and come to your senses and

Come to the altar. His arms are open wide.

 

Amen and Amen.

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Joshua 24:29-33
Leaders Buried in the Promised Land

In this final passage of the Book of Joshua, the first thing that strikes you is that this the end of an era. The wandering nation is now at rest. Here, we read that Joshua dies and is buried in the land that was given to Him by the Lord. We see the fulfillment of God’s promise to the patriachs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Joseph’s bones are laid to rest in land that is now owned rather than have to buy his burial plot in this land like Abraham did. Joshua is the last of leaders of mobile Israel. They have the Promised Land in their grasp. Though there are still pagan remnants to drive out of the land, control of the Promised Land is now theirs. It is now time to conclude one period of the history of Israel and begin another. Being a small rag-tag family is over. Going down into Egypt is over. Being saved from starvation by God’s placement of Joseph in Egypt is over. Becoming a large group of people under slavery is over. Being delivered by God through Moses is over. Failing the Lord and wandering in the desert for a generation is over. No longer is Israel a nation of people without a nation. They no longer are nomads. They are home in the Promised Land. Now they must act like a nation with defined lands and boundaries. They must take on the mantle of being God’s chosen people living in the land that God promised them. So, we stand here at the end of an era. Rest is found. No longer wondering when they will find rest from their wandering. The promise is now fulfilled.

The second thing that I noticed about this end of the Book of Joshua is that its ending is kind of abrupt. At the end of other books of the Bible there is often a summarization of what the writer wants you to take away, or some grand salutation, or some type of fitting wrap-up statement. However, here at the end of Joshua we do not have that. It simply ends with a sentence about Eleazar, the priest, dying. It says in the last passage, Joshua dies and is buried, the bones of Joseph that the nation of Israel has been hauling around for almost 5 decades are finally buried, and then Eleazar dies and is buried. To me as a 21st century student of years of cinema and hundreds of years of literature, the ending of Joshua is almost like, “whaattt? I want a better ending!” Why does it end with this bland ending about death and no great summarization of what happened, no wrap-up, just a coupla dudes dying and being buried. I guess that tells us a couple of things. First, maybe Joshua did not want some grand glorification of himself at the end of the book. Second, death is often an abrupt end even when we see it coming. We are breathing, even if labored from old age, one minute and the flash of life from God that keeps our heart beating disappears and the next moment our bodies are lifeless. Here one minute; gone the next. Third, the abrupt ending means that the story is not over. This is an end of an era. This is the end of that great succession of leaders of Israel that went from a small band of a father and his twelve sons to a nation of people settling a land. The story does not end here. We have more to come. The story of God’s people and the whole purpose of their existence is yet to come.

Those two groups of thoughts came to mind when I read this final passage of Joshua this morning. Tomorrow, we transition in the Book of Judges, but for today, we conclude our look at Joshua. We started this journey 70 days ago and we conclude it here today. Let’s read through the passage now:

29 After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 30 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah[a] in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

31 Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

32 And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver[b] from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants.

33 And Eleazar son of Aaron died and was buried at Gibeah, which had been allotted to his son Phinehas in the hill country of Ephraim.

In this final passage of the Book of Joshua, we can remember that it opens with a new leader, Joshua, being handed a seemingly impossible task – to lead what a roaming, nomadic nation of people in taking over the land of Canaan. By following God closely, Joshua lead the people through military victories and faithful spiritual obedience. In Joshua 24:16, we ready that the people were sure that they would never forsake the Lord. The response of the whole nation during these many years is a tribute to both Joshua’s leadership and to the God he faithfully served. Before Joshua and Eleazar died, they layed before the people the fundamentals of what it means to have faith in God. This is what we learned:

1. We are to honor and serve God alone (Joshua 24:14)
2. We are incapable of properly worship God because of our rebellious sin nature (Joshua 24:19)
3. When we forsake other gods (Joshua 24:15) and choose to worship God as our Lord, we enter into a covenant relationship with God (Joshua 24:25).
4. Through His covenant relationship with us, God will forgive us and love us.
5. Through His covenant relationship with us, God will enable us by His Spirit to do His work here on earth.
6. As His subjects under His covenant with us, we must renounce the principles and practices of the culture(s) around us that are hostile to God’s plan (Joshua 24:23).
7. When we collectively subject ourselves to God under His covenant relationship with us, we become a part of God’s chosen people such that we are bound together with others who have faith in God.
8. Our legacy, our epitaph, what we pass on to our children and grandchildren can be nothing better than to have been known as a man who loved God and faithfully served Him in every aspect of our lives.

From Joshua we see the end of the cycle. We see Israel get what God had promised them. That, in and of itself, is the ending. The last thing we see before this final passage is the tribes leaving this final gathering before Joshua and going each tribe to take up its inheritance. That’s the ending of the Book of Joshua. The tribes going off into the sunset like a great western movie where the central character grabs the pretty girl swings her up onto his horse and set her behind him and they ride off into the sunset as the classic from old movies “The End” appears on the screen (why do movies not do that anymore, I wonder?). What a conclusion that would be for a Hollywood production. A great speech from Joshua. A loving response from the nation of people (who had been through thick and thin together – wandering in the desert, for this generation, since they were born, fighting battles for 5 or more years to conquer the promised land) and now the rest that they deserve in the Promised Land. They all go to their respective lands. Hugging each other as they part ways toward the lands promised to their respective tribes. Promise made. Promise kept. Promise fulfilled. And there is rest. There is time now to develop a nation, an economy, and all that stuff. It is the promise of rest after the long hard fight. The race has been run and the race has been won. That’s the story. That’s the ending. Just as God promised and kept His promise to Israel to bring them into their inheritance in the Promised Land, it gives us great hope for the promises that He has made to us. We, too, will find our rest. We, too, will find our Promised Land at the end of our journey, our wandering, our wars. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord and begin our life beyond the cross our future is secured and we know that one day we will be in heaven with Jesus. That’s the promise of salvation. From this taking up of their inheritance in the Promised Land, we know that God keeps His promises to His people. Jesus said He has prepared a mansion for us in heaven. That’s a promise and God doesn’t break any promise He ever makes. We can trust, from this example, with the people of ancient Israel that God’s promise to us through our salvation in Jesus Christ that we will have heaven, our Promised Land, as our reward.

But for now, we have an abrupt ending to the story this side of heaven when we accept Christ as our Savior. It is a moment to savor and we ride off into the sunset but the “The End” does not roll now. Not yet. Our future is secured but heaven is a not yet thing. We still have a life to live beyond the cross. The story is not over yet. We cannot write the grand finale to the book yet. Stories are yet to be told. A new era begins at our salvation at the cross. We have still much to do. We have a story to write for Jesus through our lives as Christ followers. We have a legacy of faith to build. We have a legacy of chasing after God’s own heart to demonstrate to our children and grandchildren. When I think of what I learned from Joshua, as much as anything, is that what is the legacy that I will pass on to my children and grandchildren. What stories am I, by my life, going to write in their hearts. What will my life speak to them? What will the first thing that they say about me? Will they say, “he was a man who loved Jesus first and foremost in his life” That’s the legacy that I want. Sure, I am not perfect, and they will well know my faults and failures but will they know of my love for Jesus just by knowing me. That’s the legacy of Joshua. He was not perfect by any means but there was no doubt that he was a man of God. That’s what Joshua is remembered for – not his imperfections but His love of God and His obedience to Him. That’s the story I want to write with the phase of my life that began the day of my salvation. That’s the next phase. That’s the new era. That’s the story that is being written now. The story is not over until God decides my story is over and I make that sudden transition from life to death to my eternal life and my eternal home in the Promised Land of heaven with Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 24:1-28

The Lord’s Covenant Renewed

It’s kind of comparable to that sugar rush you get from eating something sweet and then comes the sugar crash. That’s how we are spiritually often! Sunday mornings are our candy sugar high and then we crash during the week.

You remember the church services that you go to and wow it is like this emotional, spiritual mountaintop experience. The music, the sermon, going out to lunch with fellow worshippers and discussing what just happened at church. It was a wow experience! On the ride home, you and your spouse talk about what was said and talk about how we as a family need to follow what the preacher said. We get home. Maybe a Sunday nap. May napping in and out while the Sunday football game is on. Still got good vibrations from Sunday morning worship. But then comes calling the kids in from play. The struggle to get homework done on Sunday night. The laundry that needs to be done for the school and work week. Dinner has got to be cooked. Chores out in the yard need to be done. Take out the trash. Getting the kids bathed and in the bed. And not long after that, it’s time for you and your spouse to hit the sack. Although the fever from the Sunday service is there, it is less intense now.

 

Then Monday comes. It’s back to school and work. It’s soccer, football and whatever other sports your kids are into. It’s getting them to practice. It’s sitting with other parents during practice talking about Donald Trump’s latest blunder with the press, about college football, about the latest recipe on pinterest. Then it is onto the next thing. Getting home. Getting some form of dinner fixed – must be healthy, with no MSG, no GMOs, and whatever the latest healthy food trend is. Getting homework done. Where is my husband? Working late again. Damn! Husbands wondering what they will find when they get home after a grueling day at the office where the boss ripped you a new one. Getting home to find the chaos of getting homework done, dinner being cooked, frayed nerves, too much to do and not enough of us to go around, kids whining about homework cause practice ran long and they are tired. Dinner is cooked. Everybody grabs their plate and goes to their separate places. Some at the table. Some in front of the TV. Some in their room. Did you make the mortgage payment for this 5 bedroom 2 ½ bath house? Did you get the oil changed in the BMW and the Volvo. Do we have enough money left over to pay the landscaper. Did we pay the HOA fees. Where’s are the kids’ ballgames this week. Well, you will have to take Suzy and Jasmine to their games and I will have to take Hunter and Brent to their games. Don’t forget I have that thing with the guys after work on Thursday. Don’t forget I have girls night out on Friday night. We can’t make small group Sunday night because we have that party at your boss’ house. It is all a maddening cycle of repetition and working things in, of managing the chaos, of too much to do and too little time to do it, to overcommitting ourselves.

 

No wonder by Saturday night, you reflect back on last Sunday’s great feeling and your willingness to do things God’s way. But six days later and you go to bed and get ready to go to church the next morning. You forgot what had you on such a spiritual high after church last Sunday. That seems so far away. You hope that you can rekindle it at church this Sunday. You need your weekly pick me up. You love Sunday morning at church cause for one thing, it is the one 3 hour stretch in your week that you and your family don’t really have to do anything but sit and listen, and the kids don’t get graded for what they do. Sunday morning church is your down time (provided there is not a softball or soccer or cheerleading tournament in a location six hours away or an away game for your favorite college team or you get the chance to go to the lake with friends). But you are there most Sundays. It really is a time for decompression isn’t it. It’s quiet time. A cup of joe from the coffee bar. A sweet Danish. Man, that air conditioning feels good. Man, these theatre seats sure are comfortable. Then the music starts. These guys are good. I heard that song on my Christian channel on Pandora this week. Love it. Love it. Love it! Oh this is the worship band’s new song. I think it like it. I really do. Oh here comes the giving talk. Divert attention by talking to wife or husband about where to go to lunch. Feel guilty about why I don’t have enough money to give to the church. Then, the pastor really knocks a home run with his sermon. Man, he really gets me. Man, he is really challenging me this week. I will do better. I promise. Rinse and Repeat.

 

Is this your week? Is this your spiritual life? Do you have peaks and valleys? Would you love to have the faith that Joe Super Christian has or that the pastor has but you just can’t fit it in? Well, that is what I thought of when I read this passage this morning, Joshua 24:1-28. The Israelites have their Sunday morning spiritual high here near the end of Joshua, but the one thing that stuck in my mind and was that last verse. Then Joshua concluded the ceremony and sent the people on their way. Knowing generally what happens next in Israel’s history in Judges, things didn’t go as planned in Judges. It reminded me of how we get our spiritual highs on Sunday morning and then by the following Saturday night life has taken its toll and nothing has changed in us. Many of us find ourselves there. Let’s read through this passage with that motif in mind:

24 Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.

 

2 Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt.

 

5 “‘Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. 6 When I brought your people out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen[a] as far as the Red Sea.[b] 7 But they cried to the Lord for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.

 

8 “‘I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. 9 When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.

 

11 “‘Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. 12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. 13 So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’

 

14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

 

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

 

19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

 

21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

 

22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”

 

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

 

23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

 

24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”

 

25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.

 

27 “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”

 

28 Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to their own inheritance.

 

In this passage, we see that the covenant between Israel and God was that the people would worship and obey God alone. Their purpose was to become a holy nation that would influence the rest of the world for God. The conquest of Canaan was a means to achieve this purpose, but Israel became preoccupied with the land and lost sight of God. The same can happen in our lives. We can start off with the greatest of intentions but somewhere along the way we forget to glorify God. It is easy to slip into quiet rebellion against the Lord and then one day we realize that we have wandered away from God. We may commit to follow God’s Word and be all fired up on Sunday but by Monday afternoon we are back to our normal selves when we do not really change, seek God in prayer, meditate upon His Word, and seek fellowship with other believers.

 

Why is it that we find it hard to stay on that spiritual high that we find ourselves in (like the Israelites here in this passage). We want to stay in that cocoon moment of emotional spirit that we often have on Sunday morning. We want to bottle that and take it with us. But it never works out that way. We fall back into our normal ways of thinking and doing. Our normal ways of what’s important in our lives. We wonder why we can maintain that spiritual feeling that we get on Sunday morning. Meanwhile, kids activities take number one spot every night. Job requirements take precedence. Our favorite hobbies take precedence. Our beautiful house, our beautiful wife, our beautiful clothes, our boat, our friends, our hobbies, our sports teams, our internet, our live stream, our Saturday filled with football games from College Game Day til you go to bed at 1am Sunday morning, its our family at separate ends of the house, its our video games, its our downloads, its our earbuds, its our checking social media and texting each other when we are the same room. When’s the last time, we prayed alone or even as a family? When’s the last time we studied God’s Word. When’s the last time we had to buy a new Bible because our old one wore out? When’s the last time we set aside time to study God’s Word alone as well as a family?

 

The Israelites fell into idolatry and turned away from God because they did not practice honoring God. They did not practice putting God first in their lives. We cannot ride our Sunday spiritual highs during the week without there being real change in our lives. We must take time and carve out time to be in God’s Word daily. We must carve out time to pray. I mean really pray. Not just calling intermittently talking to God throughout the day (though we should do that too) but really taking time out of our day to get quiet with the Lord and really pray. Just like losing weight requires lifestyle changes and when we don’t change our lifestyle we wonder why we are not losing weight so it is with our relationship with God. If we want to be closer to God, we gotta put Him first. God should not be a squeeze-in a few hours on a Sunday morning God. He should be the central core of our life. Everything should take a back seat to Him in everything. When we crowd him out with our gods – and we have them — our stuff, our activities, our children even, our spouse even, anything that we put in front of God. When we have a squeeze-in God, we ride a spiritual rollercoaster. We need to make God front row and center in our lives and we will find that our mind has been renewed. No longer on the rollercoaster. We study God’s Word. We pray. We talk about God daily. We make Him part of everything. We prioritize God first and our family activities second. When we put God first daily, you know, our kids begin to see that and begin to follow suit. It is up to us as fathers and mothers and husbands and wives to say, stop the madness and put God first. When we do (and it takes time to get our priorities in order), we will find blessing and peace and a constancy to our faith. It is not something we squeeze in any longer. It is who our family is – God first, everything else in its proper order after that.

 

Let us not be like Israel who has its spiritual high here but goes its own way after that. Let us not be rollercoaster, spiritual high thrill seekers. Let us be about placing God as our top priority everyday.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 23:1-16 (Part 2 of 2)

Joshua’s Final Words to Israel

When you get to your mid-fifties as I am now, you begin thinking about retirement and even about death. I would not say that either of these things are preoccupations to me at the moment, but these thoughts do now cross my mind, on occasion. What do I want to be remembered for?

 

There are certainly a list of mistakes that I have made in my life that I do not want to be remembered for. I do not want to be remembered for my low points and there are plenty of those. I got to thinking about this yesterday as a result of the content of what I had to teach in my New Testament class at church that I teach. In yesterday’s class, week 4 of the 13 week class, I have to teach on the Gospel of Mark. I spent a lot of time on just who the author of this gospel is. He is the John Mark noted in Paul and Peter’s letters to the church and in Acts. The first that we see Mark mentioned by name is in the descriptions of Paul’s first two missionary journeys. In that first missionary journey, John Mark is mentioned by Luke as having quit on the team and was returning to Jerusalem right in the middle of the Paul and the team’s first missionary journey. Luke is silent in the book of Acts as to why John Mark returns home smack dab in the middle of a missionary journey. But the fact remains that John Mark fails in his first efforts to be a bearer of the gospel to the nations. He turned tail and ran home. He failed. At the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey, Barnabas wants to bring his cousin, John Mark, along with them again. Paul refuses to allow John Mark to be a part of the team. Things become so heated between Barnabas and Paul as to John Mark’s presence on the team that Barnabas and Paul agree to disagree and go their separate ways. Paul and Silas go one way and Barnabas and John Mark go another – as separate missionary teams.

 

The New Testament is silent about John Mark until a brief mention of him in closing of the epistle to Philemon. He is given specific mention by Paul in 2 Timothy 4 where Paul ask Timothy to bring John Mark to Rome (where Paul is in prison awaiting what will be his execution) because John Mark is “useful in ministry.” What happened between John Mark’s failure in Acts 15:37-38 and 2 Timothy 4? John Mark goes from being an utter failure in missions work to the point that Paul does not want him on the missionary team anymore to a person whom Paul considers “useful in ministry.” He goes from being a person who shrank away from the work of the Lord (somewhat like Jonah in the Old Testament) and ran away from his God-ordained mission to be someone who Philemon, a leader in the church at Colossae, was very familiar with as a part of Paul’s church plant development team. The fact that we understand that his gospel is written to a Roman audience and the fact that Paul calls him to Rome through his second letter to Timothy, we know that John Mark was a great influence on the Christian church, the collection of believers, situated at Rome.

 

Somewhere along the way, John Mark overcomes his failures and becomes a tireless servant to the church in general. We know from first century church historian/writer, Jerome, that John Mark was responsible for establishing a church in Alexandria, Egypt that went on to become a center of Christian thought and writing. It was writers like Jerome and others at Alexandria that helped fully develop the theology of the Christian faith that still resonates in what we know and understand of the principles of our faith today. Mark went from a failure to a tireless worker and thinker of the Christian faith. His understanding of the faith became so great that it compelled him to write his gospel (much of it based on his conversations with Peter with whom John Mark had a close personal relationship to the point that Peter refers to him as a spiritual son in 1 Peter).

It is not as though John Mark had a start in life that was far from god because of his parentage. Where does Peter go after he is miraculously freed from prison. To the house of John Mark’s mother (see Acts 12) because it was at her house that believers were gathered together for prayer. His cousin Barnabas is mentioned in Acts 4 as a person that sold some land and brought the proceeds to the apostles for use in financing the Jerusalem church’s activities. This means that John Mark’s family was heavily involved in the early church and the family home was a center of activity, maybe even a central place of worship for this young movement, the Christ movement, in Jerusalem. John Mark “grew up in the church” just like I did. And just like me, it did not guarantee that he would be this spiritual giant. Mark failed miserably when it was first his time to be of real service to the church. He talked the big talk but when it first came his time to be of service he failed miserably. I grew up in the church but like John Mark I grew up and ran away from the church. Although I grew up the church, I did not accept Christ as my Savior until I was 39 years old.

 

But as the old saying goes, “it’s not our failures that define us, it is what we do next that defines us.” John Mark failed miserably on his first mission trip with Paul. But between Acts 15 and 2 Timothy 4, there is this amazing transformation in John Mark where he goes from failure to a tireless servant to Christian churches throughout the Roman empire. It’s what we do next that defines us. It is what we do next that is our legacy. John Mark is now among the spiritual giants of the early church and that’s what we remember the most. John Mark what such an influence on the church that his gospel is one of the four gospels that becomes accepted by the Christian church as part of the New Testament canon. His gospel has been read and re-read and studied and has caused people to come to Christ as their Savior for two millenia now. Talk about your comeback kids! Talk about what you do next that matters.

 

That’s the kind of legacy that I want to leave. I do want future generations of my family to know that I was like John Mark – a what you do next that matters kind of guy. I want to be remembered for my chasing after God in the last half of my life more so than the things that I was known for chasing after in the first half of my life. I want to be remembered as a man who loved God and did his best to do God’s will and to follow God’s calling rather than the person who ran from God for so long and had so many moral failures. I want that John Mark legacy. A story of redemption and usefulness to the kingdom.

 

That’s the message that Joshua is sending her in this passage. What do you want your legacy to be? Let us read through it and see how this all ties together after we read the passage:

23 After a long time had passed and the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then a very old man, 2 summoned all Israel—their elders, leaders, judges and officials—and said to them: “I am very old. 3 You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. 4 Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you.

 

6 “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. 7 Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. 8 But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.

 

9 “The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. 10 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

 

12 “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.

 

14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

 

In this passage, we see that Joshua is dying and so he called all the leaders of the nation of Israel together to give them his final words of encouragement and instruction. His whole message can be summarized in this verse, “but you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.” Joshua had been a living example of those words and he wanted that to be his legacy. For what do you and I want to be remembered, and what do you want to pass on to your children, family, friends and co-workers?

 

What do you want to be remembered for? Your moral failures? Your greed? Your adultery? Your disregard for God’s law? Your cheapening of God’s grace? Your ignoring of your children after your divorce? Your rationalization of it all? Your saying that your sin is OK because it is a sin or sins that you do not want to give up? What is the legacy that you will present before the Lord on your judgment day? There will be no justifications then? You will be judged? Do you know Jesus Christ? Have you submitted your life to His authority as Lord and have you accepted his grace through faith in Him as your Savior? What is your legacy going to be?

 

It does not matter what you have done or are doing now? It’s what you do next that matters! Come to Jesus? Change your life from a life of unrepentant sin to a life that is useful to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Come to him now. It’s what’s next that matters!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 23:1-16 (Part 1 of 2)

Joshua’s Final Words to Israel

Over the past few years since I began my quest toward making God’s calling on my life a reality, I have had to prepare my testimony (my journey to the cross and beyond) in short form, long form, you name it. Virtually every job application, every school application, in the church world, you have to lay out your spiritual journey for them. Church jobs require it. Graduate school admission applications require it. So, you gotta get to know your journey to the cross and what has happened since that time. It’s just part of the deal.

 

Since the summer of 2011 when I began the admissions process for my Master of Christian Ministry (MCM) degree, I have had to hone and develop my faith journey’s story. Then with job applications after getting my degree in May 2014 and with applications to the various doctoral programs to which I have applied since then, I have really been able to flesh out my testimony into a full-fledged autobiographical sketch of myself from first memories of my existence to where I am today. And it is from this process that I have identified some common themes of my life and what my single greatest sin weak spot is. That weakness is seeking approval from others rather than from God. I think it stems from growing up as a preacher’s kid in a Methodist preacher’s home. Moving every couple of years as I did growing developed this need for acceptance but yet always feeling like an outsider. It is something that troubles me to this day. I am a loner of sorts but one who yearns to be accepted by the crowd. That was the dominating theme of my life growing up. It would lead me to throw my socially awkward brother (he’s pretty cool now but was the classic geek growing up) under the bus to fit in with the crowd. It led me to be a certain kind of personality in one place we lived and a different one in the next place to which we moved depending on the kind of community in which we lived. I was a social chameleon – taking on the color of my surroundings so as to survive and thrive.

 

As an adult, when you no longer that society of school (including college) where we have to impress or be oppressed, you settle into your life’s work and it seems the scale of life reduces to simply the relationships you have in life – the ones in your personal life and the ones at work. No longer do you have that defined society of school where you know the boundaries of the kingdom and your place in it. In the real world, it is this massive place that is ill-defined and has no real boundaries. Real life is this amorphous blob kind of like the universe itself – a thing that goes on and on forever. To make sense of it all, you simply make your world smaller by defining through the people that you know. We make our individual universes small enough to manage. Without school, these relationships of the people that we know become extremely important. For me, I defined my world by the acceptance of and approval from whomever was the woman in my life. My life up to the cross was defined by that and the first two marriages, my need for approval and validation came from these two women. Approval came through validating myself through sex. When we were active with one another, I felt I had their approval. Thus, she who holds the keys then becomes a god. I made each wife my God and I let myself become controlled by the amount of access I had to their feminine charms. I let it become my god. Suffice it to say, and I do not blame either one of them now for why this happened, but I let go of my place as the leader of the home just to maintain approval. The greatest fear I had was being disapproved and alone and without access.

 

Many people think that salvation will change everything and everything is perfect after that. They are so wrong. Salvation is just the beginning of the journey. And for me, the longest hardest thing that the Holy Spirit had to work on me about was seeking approval from others, specifically the women in my life. In other words, my idol worship was a hard thing for me to give up even after my salvation in December 2001. We are perfected by the Holy Spirit over a course of a lifetime. They are sins we commit that we are slower to open our eyes to than others, but the Holy Spirit does eventually open our eyes to it and expose it to us and that is the time that we must deal with it and put that behavior behind us. It takes time on our particularly stubborn sins that we cling to.

 

My need for approval, particularly from the women in my life, even after two failed marriages continued on even after salvation. I rationalized away my lifestyle of encounters and pursuit of encounters as OK for me and that it was not sin – not for me. If I ignored the sin, it is not sin, right. Idol worship of women and sexual relationships outside of wedlock was OK – for me. That rule of God applies to someone else, not me. God just wants me to be happy, right? God let me have this one sin or couple of sins to myself and I will obey you otherwise, OK? Deal?

 

My own past of idol worship and turning away from God’s plan for my life is what I thought of when I read through this passage for the first time of two times this morning. Let us read through it and see how this all ties together after we read the passage:

23 After a long time had passed and the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then a very old man, 2 summoned all Israel—their elders, leaders, judges and officials—and said to them: “I am very old. 3 You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. 4 Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you.

 

6 “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. 7 Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. 8 But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.

 

9 “The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. 10 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

 

12 “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.

 

14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

 

In this passage, we see that Joshua knew nation’s weak spots. Before dying, he called the people together and gave commands to them where they would most likely slip – the temptations right in their own backyard: falling into idol worship with the remaining pagans in the land, and intermarrying with pagans. Our associations and relationships can be temptations to us as well. It is wise to identify our weak spots before we break down. Then, we can develop strategies to overcome these temptations instead of being overcome by them.

 

It was not until I met Elena who DID NOT want to have a relationship with me of any kind at first that the idol worship of women and what I needed to keep access to that I began to relinquish my idol worship. It was through this relationship that I learned what real unconditional love was and what real belonging means. For the first time in my life (over the last decade since I met her), I have not had to jump through hoops (whether self-imposed or imposed by others) to maintain approval. We have been married for seven years now and this is the longest stretch of my life where I feel secure. I don’t feel like I have to jump through hoops to gain her approval. The stupid things that I did in the past to maintain a woman’s approval are now just stupid things of the past.

 

It is through the Holy Spirit and the circumstances of life that bring you to your knees and through God speaking through other people that we recognize where our sin weak spots are. Sometimes, it takes a while for us to see it clearly. It usually takes some events that come crashing down on us to see it but God opens our eyes through the Holy Spirit. One day we realize that we have been disobedient to Him and worse yet we have justified it as OK. We protect our sin weak spot until it destroys us. Only then are we willing to listen to God about the truth of our sins and how they condemn us in front of Him without repentance on our part and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

 

What is your sin weak spot? What is that you are holding onto as an OK sin for you? What are you lying to yourself about as being OK since it is your sin? Are you justifying it? Are you blind to God’s Word about the pet sin you want to keep? God’s Word is true for all and God’s Word is true eternally not just in the past. What is the sin that you need to confess? What is the sin that is sin no matter how you slice it that you must repent from? Are you still blind that is OK for you even if it is a sin because you can handle it? Are you ignoring God’s Word on your pet sin?

 

Think about it. Examine it. Write down your life story and see the common pet sin that you fall back on all the time. Repent of it. Come to the Lord and ask forgiveness. Ask His help in making your path straight. He will bring people into your life that will help you get beyond your pet sin. The Holy Spirit will help you once you are honest about that pet sin that you are clinging to. Recognize. Repent. Retool. Rework. Rejoice!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 22:10-34

The Eastern Tribes Build an Altar

What are your family religious traditions? A lot of mine revolve around Christmas and the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

The first family tradition was that, from as early as I can remember, my dad, a minister in the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, always held a Christmas Eve communion event at whatever church he was serving. It was always held between 11pm and midnight on Christmas Eve. It was not a formal service. It was just that the church was open for families to come take communion after all their family get-togethers on Christmas Eve. The church was always darkened and lit only by candlelight and if there was light on it was turned down very low. Families would come down to the altar and my dad would recite portions of the Methodist liturgy concerning communion over the family and then he would give them the bread saying a personal word over the family members as he presented the bread before them. He would then arise and take the wine and speak from the liturgy again. Again, he would then say a personal word over each family member as they took the wine and drank it. He would then speak a benediction over the family and they, then, would quietly exit the church. It was pretty cool I always thought. Because to me, the sanctuary was always of place of preaching and singing. But on this night it was quiet and somber and almost dark except for the low lighting. The low lighting had a symbolism to dad and he said that it represented that Jesus was the light of the world in a world of darkness and sin. As the evening ended, my mom, my brother and I would go over to the church and dad would administer communion to us, his family. It was always a cool moment, a family moment, a moment that reminded us that we were a family and our family business was the church. Those Christmas Eve communion moments reminded us how special our little family was. We traveled the state from town to town over the years as a pastor’s family. We knew we had Jesus and we had each other. Nothing made that more clear to me than those moments on Christmas Eve night when we had communion together.

 

The second tradition that has been part of my life is the one that I started in my own family. Sure, my family unit is not as traditional as my parents where they were married for 53 years when mom passed away. I have been married, divorced, remarried, divorced again, and now remarried again for 7 years. However, after my salvation in December 2001, the following years since then beginning with Christmas 2002, whatever my family unit looked like at the time, we have read the Christmas passages from the Isaiah and the Gospels. Even now, with no children at home on Christmas Eve as they are all grown, I read the passages concerning the prophecies of the Messiah’s birth in the Old Testament and the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. This is a family tradition that I hope to pass along to Ralyn, my granddaughter who will be one year old on July 25th. It is my prayer that both her parents and we as her paternal grandparents will raise her up right to see that Christmas is more than presents. We must teach her that the birth of Jesus Christ is a celebration of the Savior of the World breaking into human history and THAT is why we give each other gifts at Christmas, as Jesus is a gift to us that we did not earn or merit.

 

It is those family traditions that strengthen why we believe what we believe in Christ that are important ways that we pass down our faith through the generations. That is what I thought of this morning when I read through Joshua 22:10-34 where the eastern tribes wanted to plant down a reminder to all that both the eastern and western tribes worshiped the same, one and only God:

 

10 When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. 11 And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, 12 the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.

 

13 So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 14 With him they sent ten of the chief men, one from each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans.

 

15 When they went to Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh—they said to them: 16 “The whole assembly of the Lord says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the Lord and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? 17 Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the Lord! 18 And are you now turning away from the Lord?

 

“‘If you rebel against the Lord today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. 19 If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the Lord our God. 20 When Achan son of Zerah was unfaithful in regard to the devoted things,[a] did not wrath come on the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.’”

 

21 Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: 22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the Lord, do not spare us this day. 23 If we have built our own altar to turn away from the Lord and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the Lord himself call us to account.

 

24 “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord.

 

26 “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ 27 On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’

 

28 “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’

 

29 “Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle.”

 

30 When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of the Israelites—heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. 31 And Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, said to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is with us, because you have not been unfaithful to the Lord in this matter. Now you have rescued the Israelites from the Lord’s hand.”

 

32 Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the leaders returned to Canaan from their meeting with the Reubenites and Gadites in Gilead and reported to the Israelites. 33 They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived.

 

34 And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us—that the Lord is God.

 

Here in this passage, we see that the eastern tribes concerned that, without some visible sign of unity between the tribes on the two sides of the Jordan, future generations might see conflict between them. The altar, patterned after the altar of the Lord, was to remind these people that they all worship the same God. Often, we need to be reminded of the faith of our fathers, of generations past. What actions do you and I take to demonstrate to future generations of our family our reliance on God and remind them of what God has done in us? We must take time to establish family traditions that will help your children remember. What will be the legacy that we pass on to our children of our faith?

 

What is it that you pass on to your children about your faith? Do they even know you are a believer? Do they notice a difference in you because of your relationship with Jesus Christ? How are you passing on your faith to your children? It is an given fact that we as parents are the greatest influence on the relationship our children have with the Christian faith. If we are lackadaisical about our faith, it is a pretty sure bet that our kids will grow up the same way. If we keep our faith in a box on a shelf and pull it down on Sundays only or on holidays only, what message does that send to your children. We must live out our faith in front of our children. Not hide it. We must actively engage our children about our faith and not say that they will pick it up through osmosis. We must establish traditions when they are young to remind them that we love and obey our Father in heaven. Kids love structure and routine so if we establish traditions for them when they are young, it provides opportunities to share our faith. Doing Bible devotionals at the dinner table is one way and there are a myriad of other ways to establish that faith is the central core of our families. It is our responsibilities as parents. Nobody else is going to do it for us!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 22:1-9

The Eastern Tribes Go Home

I apologize for missing a daily post yesterday. However, Elena and I are currently in the middle of spending four days and three nights in a cabin in the mountains above Pigeon Forge, TN. It is about a 3 ½ hour ride from our home in Lyman, SC. Eastern Tennessee is a mountainous region at the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountain chain. This area of the Appalachian chain is known, of course, as the Great Smoky Mountains. Because of the height and frequency of the mountains here, they get this bluish smoky hue to them. And our mini-vacation up here has been a surprisingly, amazing spiritual experience that was unexpected when I booked the cabin about six weeks ago. Sometimes, we just need to stop the hamster wheel and get off and just catch our breath.

 

All of this time here was God-ordained and God-enforced. There are several reasons that I say that. First, before we left home, my wife, the wonderfully in-touch with God spiritual woman that she is, asked me to come up with a devotional that we could do together as a couple while we had this time alone away from it all. Second, there is just the sheer beauty and majestic of the Smoky Mountains. Third, we chose on Thursday not to do any sightseeing and just enjoy the cabin – not just a place to leave our stuff while we were off sightseeing and then just come back to the cabin and sleep.

 

To talk about the first thing which is my wife’s request that we do a devotional together while we were out of town together. Because of busy schedules back home and all the things that we are into back there in Lyman through church, my secular job, and through my doctoral program studies, we honestly only have time to do our individual Bible studies (my blog each morning and Elena having devotional time via text with her gal pals). Then, it’s off to our individual days – my job, Elena with community outreach ministries and administrative help at the church and her duties as a housewife at our home. Then, its back home for time to chat for a little while. Then, it’s me down to the cellar of our house to work out lifting weights and aerobic exercises in an attempt to reduce the weight I carry around that is over and above my ideal weight. It’s Elena cooking up one of her wonderful dinners that, in part, has put the weight on me! Just kidding. Then, it’s me off to my study to do my daily ration of reading for this semester of my doctor of ministry program. Then, it’s Elena to clean up the pots, pans, and dishes from dinner and then settle on the couch to watch TV as I study. Then, it’s me back in the living room with Elena to watch about an hour of TV together before it’s time to go to bed. Rinse and repeat. The cycle begins again the next day. Often our weekends are jampacked with things to do, including an occasional visit to see our almost 1 year old granddaughter and to visit my daughter and son-in-law. Life is just busy right now. Though I am not complaining about that, it just is. We thrive on our ability to still be fully active and engaged in a busy lifestyle. We know that it will come to an end someday because we are at that age where we are watching our parents being debilitated by the ravages of aging.

 

So, this flippant idea of getting away not to our favorite place (a beach anywhere, any place) but to a mountain retreat was unique. Then, add to that my wife yearned for us to have devotional time together as a couple made this trip even more unique. We don’t have time for that usually. It was an important request. I think it was a God-ordained request. The initial problem that I had as the husband in our relationship was what to pick as a devotional for us to do together as a couple. The Lord put it on my heart for us to do an examination of the Lord’s Prayer. When we first started leading a small group about five years ago, we started with a study of the Gospel of Matthew. During that process, I had put together an analysis of the Lord’s Prayer. So, God put it on my heart to pull it back out for my and Elena’s devotional time together while are here. We have spent the last two mornings going over the Lord’s Prayer. What we must remember as I had learned five years ago is that what we call the Lord’s Prayer is really not a prayer in and of itself. It is Jesus’ instructions to us on how we should pray when we pray. Breaking down the Lord’s Prayer into 8 phrases and really studying them is a real eye-opener. So many times, we recite the Lord’s Prayer without thinking as it has often become this robotic thing we say without even thinking about the words. Breaking it down into its phrases will really teach you a lot about the honor, respect, humility and dependence upon God with which we should approach our Father when we pray:

 

  1. Our Father
  2. Who Art In Heaven
  3. Hallowed by Thy Name
  4. Thy Kingdom Come
  5. Thy Will Be Done On Earth as it is in Heaven
  6. Give Us This Day our Daily Bread
  7. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
  8. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

 

We really had some vibrant discussions around these eight phrases in the Lord’s Prayer and we walked today remembering how we should approach God (first three phrases) and how we should act in relationship to God (second five phrases) when we pray. It is a reminder of the order of the relationship – God then us and how we are dependent upon Him. We sometimes forget this fact when we pray and treat God as if He is our buddy or as if He is a vending machine. The Lord’s Prayer is our blueprint for how we should pray. I am glad that Elena was influenced by the Holy Spirit to request that we do this devotional time together as a couple. It was so good to have these conversations one on one (not in a group of friends or in public church setting) about God and how we should approach. We would not have had this time if we had not chosen to take time out, to have a time of rest, to have a time of peace. It was unique in our experience together as a couple. But it required taking time out to stop.

 

The second and third thing that is striking is that we are here in the beauty of the Smoky Mountains and the time alone with my wife. God enforced my appreciation of this beautiful place by its sheer magnitude as well. Up here in the mountains way above the valley where Pigeon Forge lies below the internet in this cabin is OK for internet surfing but if you have to do higher level things liked signing into your company’s VPN to run network resources, forget about it! It does not have the consistent signal strength or horsepower to fuel remote computing. So, I finally had to tell all the folks that I deal with in California and South Carolina on my job was that all I could do was answer emails. If they needed me to doing anything in our ERP system, it was going to be impossible. So, for the first time in almost a decade when on vacation, I actually took the day off. Elena and I then decided, too, that we weren’t going anywhere. We had a jacuzzi on the back porch and back porch with a beautiful view. We turned the thermostat on the jacuzzi down to 58 degrees so that the heater would not turn on and we had cool water to sit in. We were like let’s just sit here and relax in the cool water and look out at the mountains all day. Snacks are in the cabin. Cold drinks in the fridge. And outdoor furniture to sit on when we wanted to take a break from the water. A restroom right inside a few steps away. No crowds to deal with. No lines to stand in. Just being. Just doing nothing but observing God’s creation and having long conversations that we rarely have time for anymore. It was throwback to when we were dating back in the Rock Hill, SC days when we lived in the same building of the same apartment complex. We used to have long conversations there and just observing the nature just outside the deck at Elena’s ground floor apartment. We could not have asked for a better day to do this. It was beautiful day outside. The weather in the region took a break from the 90 degree temps/75% humidity that we have been suffering through in the South. The temperature yesterday was in the low 80’s and very low humidity for once. We just enjoyed the beauty of what is God’s creation in a low pace, low impact way. We could not have done this without stopping and resting. Just stopping. Combine that we our discussion of the first three phrases of the Lord’s Prayer about remember who God is when we pray and the beauty of the scenery. It was a highlight day for our marriage. We could not have done this without stopping.  Just stopping.

 

These are the things that I thought about this morning as I read through Joshua 22:1-9 where the eastern tribes get to go home. After all the hustle and bustle of conquering the promised land, suffering and sweat and tears of war. It was time to go home and rest. God will call His people back to the business of being God’s people but for right now it was time to go home to rest and reconnect with those who are important to them – their families – and to reconnect to the land that was theirs. With that in mind, let’s read through it now together:

 

22 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh 2 and said to them, “You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. 3 For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your fellow Israelites but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you. 4 Now that the Lord your God has given them rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

 

6 Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes. 7 (To the half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given land in Bashan, and to the other half of the tribe Joshua gave land on the west side of the Jordan along with their fellow Israelites.) When Joshua sent them home, he blessed them, 8 saying, “Return to your homes with your great wealth—with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron, and a great quantity of clothing—and divide the plunder from your enemies with your fellow Israelites.”

 

9 So the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, which they had acquired in accordance with the command of the Lord through Moses.

 

In this passage, we see that, before the conquest of the Promised Land had begun, these tribes were given their land on the east side of the Jordan River. However, before they could settle down, they to first promise to help the others tribes conquer the land west of the Jordan. They had patiently and diligently carried out their duties. Joshua commended them for doing just that. At last, they were permitted to return to their families and build their new cities and towns. It is not God’s intention for us to be working all the time. It is His intention for us to have times of rest and peace. It was ordained in this manner from the beginning of the universe, when God Himself rested after creation.

 

As for me, the takeaway is the synchronicity of this passage with what Elena and I are doing here in the Smoky Mountains. We so needed this. We so needed yesterday especially. We needed time to reconnect with God. We needed to observe His grandeur. We needed to study together on what our proper relationship with God is individually and as a couple. We needed time to worship God together in this beautiful, serene, secluded place to remember who God is what our relationship to Him is. We needed the time together to reconnect with each other as a couple. We needed time to just talk with no appointments on the calendar. No places we had to be. No things we had to do. No study. No work. No thing. Nothing to do but spend time together. Reconnecting with each other in the most important relationship of our lives – marriage. We need to take the time to just stop. Just stop. It was time to rest. It time to unplug and just be together in God’s great creation. And be thankful. And be humbled before God.

 

When we leave here, there will be new battles to face. New things to have to be done. We will face the day to day monotony of living the 21st century life. But sometimes you have to stop. Just stop. And see God and worship. Just stop and see each other. Just stop.

 

 

Amen and Amen.